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Lessons for effective teaching in remote environments

Research shows that following a strong SEL (Social and Emotional learning) programme impacts students’ academic performance by 11 percentile points, compared to students who did not have this.

online education
Discussions on online learning have been dominated by technology needs and it remain important to do virtual learning well because it could be a recurring requirement.

By Dr. Shalini Advani,

Despite all our most fervent wishes, education is back online. After a brief relief with children back in physical school, students have reverted to being icons on screens. How should we prepare for effective teaching in this new cycle? What have we learnt – and are we wiser?

The pandemic has been a wakeup call for education. Newspaper headlines tend to focus on the challenges of cancelled exams and solutions by different exam Boards. But equally important is the remarkable commitment to education which the pandemic has shown us – young learners scrambling up a hill to get better connectivity, families scrounging to get enough money to buy a precious smart phone, loudspeakers broadcasting the teachers words from a single smartphone to a group, maths problems being sent out by Whatsapp. It must inspire everyone in education to do better than we have.

These stories of commitment remind us of the importance of the personhood, the individuality of millions of children. School is always about more than subject teaching or content delivery. Children need to feel a sense of belonging and mental resilience in order to learn.

Schools now widely recognise the importance of a purposive teaching of wellbeing, and there is a growing body of curriculum material to assist. Research shows that following a strong SEL (Social and Emotional learning) programme impacts students’ academic performance by 11 percentile points, compared to students who did not have this. Moreover students participating in SEL programs showed improved classroom behaviour, an increased ability to manage stress and depression, and better attitudes about themselves, others, and school.

Many curriculum samples are now available for schools to draw from: The SEE curriculum inspired by the Dalai Lama and developed by Emory University, the Happiness curriculum introduced by the Delhi government are some examples. Many schools regularly conduct mindfulness sessions and recognize that the need for a counsellor on board is as important as a maths or language teacher. For effective learning it is essential that every teacher in some part becomes a counsellor, committing time to check in with students, understand which child has a parent who has lost their job or has lost a family member.

Simultaneously it is important to help students see their own difficulties in perspective. This can be done through exposing children to writing or videos on this – Save the Children’s poetry collection by young people, or Samina Mishra’s Jamlo Walks or news on the children who dropped out of school perhaps permanently, create a powerful sense of empathy which will shape an appreciation of their own lives.

But while we focus on the needs of students, it is equally important to think about teachers. For teachers, bringing students back to effective learning seems doubly difficult. There is a widespread sense of fatigue, the emotion of here-we-go-again, the exhaustion of rising once again to a familiar challenge. The webinars and workshops which were eagerly seized during the first lockdown have become a distant memory.

How can education systems replicate the resilience and creativity which teachers showed in the early months of online schools? This is a watershed moment in education, a perfect opportunity to re-imagine the role of a teacher. Online school can allow us to restructure what teachers do. Proper systems of support can enable a system of teaching in small groups – closer to community schooling. Using the most effective online tools and flipped classroom strategies can allow more students to learn and practice at their level, while allowing teachers to work directly with students who need it most. This will not only help teachers to address learning gaps but also promote a change of ownership of learning.

Strengthening Learner Agency where students take some responsibility for their own learning and can explore their own areas of interest within a topic is an important shift in roles. Learners could develop their own stories or illustrations, do role plays, find answers and suggest solutions to problems. This approach is based on content learning but it also allows a learner to follow a personal interest. A chapter on Sustainability for instance allows some to look at crops in the region, or water distribution, animal migration, building materials – each of these making learning individually meaningful. Teachers should be supporters of such learning, helping where children have difficulty or bringing in a wider perspective.

Discussions on online learning have been dominated by technology needs and it remain important to do virtual learning well because it could be a recurring requirement. However the divide in education extends beyond the digital. We need to rethink education holistically to promote a truly equitable society.

(The author is currently the School Director of Pathways School Noida. She is the author of Schooling the National Imagination. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)

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